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Three’s Company In San Diego Mayoral Race

San Diego Mayor Kevin Faulconer was widely thought to be coasting to re-election on June 7. But now with two high-profile challengers — former Assemblywoman Lori Saldaña and former City Councilman Ed Harris — Faulconer has been forced to defend his record in office.

Three’s Company In San Diego Mayoral Race


Andrew Bowen, KPBS Metro Reporter


When Kevin Faulconer was sworn in as mayor of San Diego on March 3, 2014, the city was still recovering from the embarrassing sexual harassment scandal that forced Mayor Bob Filner to resign. Faulconer looked to bring the stability voters desired.

In a recent interview, Faulconer said the city is better off now, and that he has tried as mayor to collaborate with people regardless of party affiliation. His last budget won unanimous approval from the City Council, and he signed the city’s ambitious — and bipartisan — Climate Action Plan.

“I think that’s probably one of my biggest strengths, is working with people,” he said. “It’s not about Republican, Democrat or independent. “It’s what’s the right thing we should be doing for San Diego.”

It is precisely Faulconer’s popularity as a Republican in a more Democratic city that has led to speculation he’s eyeing higher office, perhaps the governorship in 2018. His opponents accuse him of being more concerned with running for higher office than fixing San Diego’s problems.

Kevin Faulconer

Age: 49

Hometown: Oxnard

Education: Bachelor's degree in political science, San Diego State University

Family: Wife, Katherine Stuart Faulconer, daughter Lauren and son Jack

Career history: San Diego City Council (2006-2014); vice president, Porter Novelli (1996-2005); manager, Solem & Associates (1992-96); fellow, Coro Foundation (1991-92); carpet cleaner (1990-91)

Other interests: Cycling, swimming, running, watching SDSU Athletics, spending time with his family

Fun Fact: Participated in an exchange program with a several Mexican families growing up, spending summers in Ocotlan, Mexico.

Faulconer dismissed that speculation, and attributed it to statewide interest in San Diego’s emergence from its damaging pension crisis.

“We do have a successful story, and so I think that’s where you’re seeing some of that come from,” he said. Asked if he could promise San Diego voters he would stay in office for a full four-year term, Faulconer said: “I’m running for mayor to stay as mayor of this great city.”

Police problems

Faulconer touted his budget for fiscal 2017, which begins July 1, as evidence he is fixing problems. The City Council’s independent budget analyst, Andrea Tevlin, praised the budget for strengthening the city’s reserves, increasing funding for street repair and funding an update to the city’s comprehensive park plan.

She also identified weaknesses, including its lack of ideas for new revenue. San Diego has a long list of needs, Tevlin wrote, and it is “likely that new resources will need to be considered in the near future if City plans are to be implemented.”

Photo by Milan Kovacevic

Mayor Kevin Faulconer delivers his second State of the City speech at the Balboa Theatre, Jan. 14, 2016.

Among the city’s most urgent problems is police officer recruitment and retention. Many officers are leaving the San Diego Police Department for better pay and benefits elsewhere. While Faulconer’s previous budget may have kept the problem from getting worse, the attrition rate has remained stubbornly high. The current budget, Tevlin wrote, “does not include any new initiatives or resources aimed at improving police recruitment and retention beyond what was negotiated in 2015.”

Lori Saldaña

Age: 57

Hometown: San Diego

Education: Bachelor's degree (1980) and master's degree (1990) from San Diego State University — School of Professional Studies and Fine Arts, School of Exercise and Nutritional Sciences

Family: Three sisters, nine nieces and nephews, parents Frank and Virginia (deceased)

Career history: Professor of computers and business information technology, San Diego Community College Sistrict (since 1996); state assemblywoman (2004-2010); environmental research fellow, UCSD Center for US-Mexico Studies (2003)

Other interests: Gardening, hiking, whale watching in Baja lagoons, camping, kayaking, sailing, SCUBA/snorkeling

Fun fact: Native La Jollan, born at Scripps Hospital when it was located on Prospect Avenue

Former Assemblywoman Lori Saldaña, who entered the mayor’s race in January, said she encounters entrants to San Diego’s police academies in the information technology classes she teaches for the San Diego Community College District. She said they have shared concerns that the Police Department’s on-the-job training would be insufficient.

“I also worry that they leave their shift, and then they’re asked to go fill in for the dispatchers,” she said. “So they’re working more hours, and that’s very stressful. It’s like air traffic controllers. … When you work long hours, you’re more likely to make a mistake.”

When Saldaña served in the Assembly from 2004 to 2010, she was a Democrat. She said she then got fed up with party politics and switched to become an independent. She said she remains a staunch progressive, however, and supports the local minimum wage increase that Mayor Faulconer vetoed.

Photo caption:

Photo by Christopher Maue

Lori Saldaña announces her candidacy for San Diego mayor, Jan. 28, 2015.

“It’s very frustrating to see a situation in our city where it’s becoming more and more expensive, pushing more and more people out of San Diego,” she said. “And this current administration is really not doing much to help that situation.”

‘Proactive’ leadership

If Saldaña were Faulconer’s only opponent on June 7, the election would almost certainly have been settled then. Unlike candidates for state and federal office, city of San Diego candidates who get more than 50 percent of the vote in June can bypass elections in November.

But on March 1, lifeguard union leader and former City Councilman Ed Harris entered the race. Harris, a Democrat, was appointed to finish the nine months remaining in Faulconer’s term on the City Council when Faulconer was elected mayor.

Photo caption:

Photo by Kris Arciaga

San Diego mayoral candidate Ed Harris, right, speaks to KPBS metro reporter Andrew Bowen at the Ocean Beach Pier, May 2, 2016.

Harris said the lifeguard service has a similar problem with attrition as the police, as identified in a city auditor’s report in May 2015. He said Faulconer has not presented a plan to fix it.

Ed Harris

Age: 50

Hometown: Fullerton

Education: Leadership development, U.S. Marine Corps; certificate in fire science, Palomar College

Family: Wife, Kate Harris; children Brian, 12, and Morgan, 11

Career history: Marine Corps, 1984-1988; lifeguard 1989-present; Current lifeguard sergeant and supervisor in Northern Area; Dive team sergeant; Boating safety unit sergeant. Property Management. 1998-present.

Other interests: Freediving, gardening, fishing, skiing, traveling with family

Fun fact: Was a test diver for James Cameron's project manager, assisted in diving operations while testing prototype submarines, which assisted in his successful descent to the bottom of the Mariana Trench.

“This mayor does not act until there’s a crisis or until it benefits him publicly — that’s not being a mayor,” Harris said. “What you need to do in leadership is be proactive. We should be taking care of problems before they become major, or before they become out of control.”

Harris made a mark during his brief time on the City Council by casting the sixth vote to override the mayor’s veto of the local minimum wage increase. He also opposed an increase to the height limit on buildings in Bay Park, linked with higher-density housing around a forthcoming trolley extension through the neighborhood. Harris said he has evolved from his oft-quoted statement that “density belongs downtown,” and now supports transit-oriented development when it respects the concerns of neighborhood residents.

He also made a splash by opposing a lease extension on the city-owned Belmont Park at Mission Beach. He said the lease was just one of several bad deals for taxpayers that take away money from other city services.

Harris and Saldaña are clear underdogs — Mayor Faulconer has a near insurmountable advantage in fundraising and campaign organization. If Faulconer wins more than 50 percent of the vote on June 7, he wins re-election. The question is if Harris and Saldaña can steal away enough votes and push this campaign through to a November runoff.


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Photo of Andrew Bowen

Andrew Bowen
Metro Reporter

opening quote marksclosing quote marksI cover local government — a broad beat that includes housing, homelessness and infrastructure. I'm especially interested in the intersections of land use, transportation and climate change.

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